The Wild didn’t spiral down the standings when it lost defensive pillar Jared Spurgeon to a groin strain late in November, going a respectable 6-3 while he was out.
But Spurgeon is no doubt poised to bolster the back end when he returns to the lineup Sunday against the Blackhawks.
“I think mentally for the players, it will be a big boost,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We’ll see. He hasn’t played for a while. I’m not expecting 30 minutes and be God out there, but he’s always been a leader and inspirational guy for our team. So I hope he comes and he’s that again today.”
Sidelined since Nov.27, Spurgeon had three goals and 15 points in 23 games. To make room for him on the roster after activating him from injured reserve, the team assigned defenseman Ryan Murphy to Iowa of the American Hockey League Saturday.
Spurgeon won’t be reunited with former partner Ryan Suter; instead, he’ll take Murphy’s spot next to Jonas Brodin, as Boudreau wanted to keep the Suter-Matt Dumba duo together.
“It’s made Dumba a much better player,” Boudreau said.
After a 26-save showing Saturday in a 3-2 loss to the Oilers, goalie Alex Stalock will be back between the pipes – backstopping the Wild as it begins a four-game road trip before the holiday break in a game against the Blackhawks that always seems to provide a measuring stick of sorts.
“Those guys know (for an) important game how to get up,” Boudreau said of the Blackhawks. “We’re still learning that I think.”
Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu- Mikael Granlund
Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle
Tyler Ennis-Daniel Winnik-Chris Stewart
Joel Eriksson Ek-Matt Cullen-Zack Mitchell
Ryan Suter- Matt Dumba
Jonas Brodin-Jared Spurgeon
Mike Reilly-Nate Prosser
9-3-1: The Wild’s record against the Blackhawks in the teams’ last 13 matchups.
2-1: How the Wild has performed in the second game of a back-to-back so far this season.
13: Penalty kills by the Wild the last 13 times it’s been shorthanded.
4: Straight wins for Chicago.
39: Points in 38 career games against the Wild for Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
About the Blackhawks:
The Blackhawks occupy the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference with 37 points – which is tied with the Wild. This has been an uneven season to date for Chicago; until its current four-game win streak, the team hadn’t won more than two games in a row. It also dropped five straight before going on this run. Still, this is a potent lineup, with winger Patrick Kane at 32 points and center Artem Anisimov pacing the pack in goals (13). Goalie Corey Crawford has also been solid, posting an impressive .934 save percentage with a 2.15 goals-against average amid a 15-7-2 record.